Alexander Volfovsky, Assistant Professor of Statistical Science at Duke University, has been awarded a prestigious National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award. The award supports outstanding young faculty members in their efforts to build a successful research enterprise.
For the next five years, the award will support his work on the design and analysis of experiments for complex social processes. Broadly, modern scientific inquiry from the social to the health sciences centers around answering foundational “what if?” questions with a special emphasis on understanding the effects of changing complex social processes such as the arrangement of individuals into networks or groups and communication of information via text. The causal inference literature has heralded the role of randomization in getting answers to such “what if?” questions, treating randomized controlled experiments as a gold standard for testing simple causal hypotheses. However, hidden behind this powerful tool are a series of assumptions and design decisions that are difficult to control for and are untenable in the context of complex and changing social processes. The grant will support the development novel theory and methodology that will directly address the role of these social processes in causal inference. The new tools can be used across disciplines to study interventions whenever social processes are present such as in the study of important societal questions relating to vaccines, non-pharmaceutical interventions, implications of different education policies and the like.